Explorers, Astronauts and Pioneers

I was reading an article in the Los Angeles Times the other day about the founder of Space X. The founder, Elon Musk, said that if man does not reach Mars by the time he dies, he will be severely disappointed. He is currently in search of a rocket, a potential couple, and a method for reaching Mars. His company has revolutionized space travel, made it accessible to the non astronaut, and continues to make advances that push the boundaries of space travel that only NASA, a government agency, had been able to address before. Elon Musk is a modern day explorer.

Sounds inspiring, right? But take a look at the comments on this page and you would think that Elon Musk is either a conspiring evil capitalist or a fool. There was very little praise for his advances, applause for his risks, or hope for his shared dreams.

It is a hard life being a pioneer. Elon Musk has millions of critics and he risks his personal wealth on his visions daily.

You don’t have to move from one place to another to be a pioneer who is belittled or faced with hardship. Walt Disney went bankrupt several times before he built his dream of Disneyland more than 50 years ago. Today there are books on the man who brought us Mickey Mouse and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride being the Prince of Darkness.

Going even further back, Brigham Young faced immediate hardships along with hundreds of Mormons that were literally marked by death by the State of Missouri and had lost their leader to martyrdom. Forced out of the country, Mormons faced death by starvation, exposure as they trekked to Utah which was not exactly the green, lush, farm-land that Missouri had been. Mormon Pioneers could have related to the Pilgrims who were forced to leave their own country over their religious choices. Puritans did not come to America through any easy means of travel.

A little further we find John Smith, a world renowned explorer/adventurer, was captured by Indians and would have been killed if not saved by Pocahontas, but many today call him an interloper. Christopher Columbus was not only called crazy when he wanted to find a new route to India, he is called a genocidal maniac by modern day educators. To hear discussion on these two in modern times, you might think they were advocates sent from the devil himself, despite the very widely available publishing of their journals and those of the people who spent time with them.

Demonizing explorers is not a recent phenomenon. Marco Polo had given up talking about his exploration in China. He had given up because no one believed him. His neighbors demonized him or belittled him, and it cost him too much to relive, to share, his discoveries with his peers to even acknowledge that he was an explorer until he literally had nothing to lose as a Prisoner of War, a soldier in jail with an inquisitive writer and fellow POW who wrote his story down.

There were times when explorers were lauded in this country–when an astronaut was as noble an occupation as any young boy could aspire to. In the previous centuries in America, we made fictional heroes of even stranded explorers like Superman, Tarzan, Buck Rodgers and John Carter. But today–notsomuch.

I suppose it should come as no shock that a people who would demonize the successful find of an entire continent would be alarmed at the advance of exploration to an entire planet–even if it is completely dead. And there can be no doubt that a people more interested in an end of moral civilization dystopian fantasy like Hunger Games than a book about how love overcame the zombie apocalypse: Warm Bodies, would be focused on the worst aspects of humanity and their inability to overcome their own worst traits. This is not a recent phenomenon. We see it in movies, we hear a culture warfare in our news, from our politicians, on our blogs and in video games. How we overcome this, or if we even want to, is entirely in our own hands.